2014 is the year of fourteen. 14. That’s how many states to date provide access to original birth records for adopted citizens. It’s wonderful – yet also sobering. Its taken so much effort to get to this place – and there’s still so far to go. I stand in awe of those who have navigated the sluggish and tricky waters of reform.
Sad to think that states sealed adoptees’ birth certificates with such ease, often with little or no record of who was involved or why. Bills passed in silence. No one fought on behalf of the children being adopted, there was no impassioned testimony about what this might do to them, just a quiet closing of doors, a creation of vaults, and generations of stone-faced clerks taught to say ‘you have no right to this information’, a monotone inhumane response stretching out forever.
What past legislatures did in an instant has taken decades to undo. New Jersey sealed records in 1940. When those children of the sealed era grew up and asked for the piece of paper that the state held on the first chapter of their lives, it took 34 years to finally reverse. Young people who began the effort are now white-haired. And even with victory, there was a need to compromise. What made the ink on the New Jersey bill palatable was the knowledge that going there would be no more sealed records going forward.
Not every state has been as complicated a battleground as New Jersey – but all of them have required tenacity, courage, and enormous amounts of personal time. On the surface, it sounds so easy. If a law is unjust, change it. If it were just that simple.
2014 has felt like a tipping point. Washington, Ohio, Colorado, New Jersey – all enacted or passed laws this year. Connecticut has inertia. Illinois passed an additional statute. And Pennsylvania has looked hopeful all year long. But like so many other battleground states, as votes draw close, old and antiquated fears and foes appear. This may not be Pennsylvania’s year – but one day it will be.
For if the history of the adoption reform movement suggests anything, its that perseverance works. The stamina required is daunting. The cost, in terms of human time, personal expense, coping with attacks from within and without, the discouragement – its impossible to quantify. Applaud the people in the trenches doing the work. Their efforts are for more than a simple piece of paper. They dignify us all.
2014. It could be a tipping point. It’s definitely a year to celebrate!